The pandemic has shown that public trust in promising new medical technologies is far from a given. For companies with breakthrough innovations in the pipeline, it’s crucial to get expert help building confidence.
Rewind to late 2019. If you had been told that within a few months, you’d be living in the middle of the biggest pandemic since the 1918 global flu outbreak, but that thanks to new mRNA technology, vaccine prototypes would be ready for trials within weeks and the first shots would go into arms before the end of 2020, what would you have thought?
You could be forgiven for assuming that people would marvel in unison about the miracle of modern medical science. Alas, it didn’t quite go that way.
While most people were relieved to be able to get their shots so soon, a significant section of society went the opposite way and refused to get vaccinated. Some were simply hesitant because they lacked information. A good portion of that group has come around by now. But in the end, the refusal camp was strong enough to hamstring the U.S. vaccination effort, which left us more vulnerable to Delta-driven COVID surges in the summer and fall of 2021, as well as the Omicron variant that showed up toward the end of the year.
Considering what else is in the technology pipeline, that should give us all pause. If the medical sector can’t get a handle on the growing public trust disconnect, it will mean significant dollars lost. But it will also mean that breakthrough innovations will fail to make their full positive impact, which would ultimately create significant adverse public health impacts.
A happier, healthier place
Luckily, it doesn’t have to be that way. It’s not news that we’re in the early stages of a revolution in medicine. Artificial intelligence and genomics are coming together to create mindboggling new possibilities. mRNA vaccines are just the beginning.
Relatively soon, we’ll see things like cancer vaccines, gene-based drugs that help cardiovascular patients grow new blood vessels, and devices that spit out individualized medications, tailored to each patient’s unique genome. These things will make the world a happier, healthier place.
But the pandemic has shown that it won’t happen as easily as one might hope. Before COVID, anti-vaccine sentiments were a growing, but still rather marginal phenomenon. Today, for many millions of people, they’ve become part of their identity. Polling reveals a core constituency of up to a quarter of the population that’s hardened in its belief that medical science can’t be trusted.
Some of that is due to broader trends. People don’t trust institutions the way they used to, and that includes modern medicine. Genetic science is complicated and, for many, a little scary.
But we’re also dealing with a social media environment that’s set up to supercharge nonsense. What’s a crackpot theory one day can be a viral avalanche the next. That’s how a marginal in-crowd of online anti-vaxxers has metastasized into a global movement of science skeptics.
Smart marketing wins the day
Companies that are developing breakthrough medical technologies should pay very close attention to these trends. We might be on the cusp of a golden era in medicine, but if significant slices of the population decide they don’t buy it, there’s a serious problem.
That means it’s crucial to be smart about how we market these technologies. Here are some things to keep in mind:
- Just explaining the science is not enough: It may be counterintuitive in a sector so firmly built on the scientific method, but societal acceptance is built on emotion as well as facts. That means you have to be able to take the exact temperature of your various audience segments, and communicate in a way that reassures as much as it clarifies and builds trust without patronizing. That requires a specific skill set.
- Just talking to healthcare providers is not enough: More than ever, patients are in the driver’s seat because they no longer hesitate to switch doctors, use telemedicine and shop around for treatments. Increasingly, makers of sophisticated B2B goods and services who aren’t used to communicating with consumers will have to avail themselves of the expertise to do exactly that.
- Just using corporate channels is not enough: As the pandemic has made painfully clear: even for today’s empowered patients, frontline physicians are the face of the medical establishment. That means that medical technology companies will have to equip them with tailored talking points, visuals and even social media content, so they can help people feel comfortable with the rapidly changing landscape of medicine.
- Just creating content is not enough: In a world where algorithms direct attention, do you really know your audiences? Do you know what media they’re consuming, when and where? Do you know who influences them, who influences the influencers and how to reach these groups? Communicating effectively today means creating persuasive content tailored to each audience segment, and delivering it through the right channels at the right time.
We’d love to help you write the next chapter
Let’s be honest, most companies aren’t equipped to do that in-house. But that’s OK, as long as you realize that the help you need is out there. And you should get help, because getting it wrong means losing trust, and trust is much easier to lose than to earn back.
For that reason, dollars invested in getting it right the first time around are smart money.
Getting it right is not only good business, it also means that new world-changing, life-saving treatments get to the people who need them. It means that the next time a global health crisis rolls around, we’ll be better prepared with cutting-edge technologies and the persuasive power to help people understand and adopt them.
That means getting expert outside help. But you can’t just go out and hire any agency. You need to find one that “gets” the science and is used to operating under the specific constraints of the healthcare sector, but is also adept at forging emotional connections with your various audiences.
You need an agency like StoneArch. For 36 years, we’ve helped clients in the medical sector translate complex issues into campaigns that connect. We’ve built dozens of websites, made hundreds of videos, written millions of words and helped launch more than 500 products. We’ve done this using every conceivable channel—analog and digital, paid and organic, B2B and B2C.
We know as well as anybody that great things are ready to happen in healthcare, because working with our clients in every subdiscipline of the business, we see it up-close every day. We’re as excited as anybody about the next chapters in medical science—and we’d love to talk about helping you write them.